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Khmer Kites


planet. kite. matrix.



Excerpts from kitebook

"Khmer Kites"


(web launch sept 2002)



to: contents

june 2003 - the book "khmer kites"
is now available in a printed edition
available from sim sarak cambodia,
price is us$ 18 plus shipping.

the book will sooner or later also be available at
"drachen-foundation" seattle, usa.



An explorer's long-established
Kite-Flying habits in Cambodia

Sim Sarak and Cheang Yarin

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts

This book is dedicated to the memories and spirits
of our Khmer ancestors who innovatively made assorted kind of kites
for their dearest sons and daughters


it is dedicated to my countrymen
who strive to give their life their special meaning.

The kite flies higher because of the wind,
The chief highly honors because of the numbers,
The fortunes are saved by a good wife,
The prosperous house is because of a faithful wife.

Preah Raj Samphar,
Chbab Trei-neti (Code of Conducts), 17th century, Cambodia

Cambodia, historical drawing.

Khmer flying "Kleng Ek" kite


Milan, eh! paroles de milan!
Larguons la corde longue
Suivant la caprice du milan qui vire-volte.
Accompagnons Succès jusqu'au pays,
Qu'il ne reste pas au pays des autres.
Mort, on va dans le néant,
Regrettant son corps, eh!

Eveline Porée-Maspero
"Etude sur les rites agraires des Cambodigiens",
Tome II, Paris Mouton & Co., La Haye, 1964



Historians noted that the first State of the Khmer Nokor Phnom or Funan came into existence with the hands of the ancient indigenous people of Cambodia at the beginning of the Christian era.

It developed through different epochs from Funan to Zhenla and then to Moha Nokor(The Angkorian era) (802-1431) when the civilization reach its zenith, leaving rich cultural heritages to later generation of the Khmer. Through many centuries, these elements of life and thinking were synchronized into an identity of the Khmer nation, including language, letter, literature, cults, religions, morals, arts, inventions, entertainments, traditions and customs, the festival of kite flying, to name a few.

Unfortunately for Cambodian people, their country was in flames of successive wars and civil strife of the 1970s. During this dark period, millions of Cambodian people were killed; cultural patrimonies destroyed and traditional practices of kite flying were no longer seen. These led to a poor knowledge about the national kites among younger generation.

With an ardent desire to make a humble contribution to the revival of the Khmer traditional practices of kite flying, as an intangible cultural heritage of Cambodia, I approached and sought for support and assistance of top management of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts by early 1994 in initiating festivals of kite-flying in the country. The quest was made and three festivals of kite flying were consecutively held in Phnom Penh respectively on 31 December 1994, 25 December 1996 and 22 December 1999 with large participation of the mass population. The 1994 kite-flying festival was the first of its kind since King Ang Duong died in 1859. It was also the renaissance of such kind of festival after its death for 135 years.

As the government would like to make the new millennium and to dedicate itself to peace in Cambodia, the third festival of kite-flying organized in 1999 was so solemn and unprecedented in the country under a motto: "Lay down weapons, Fly kites"

Kite-flying practices are resumed by kite fans, especially among children but not active yet. However, many of us gain little knowledge about history of kite and do not know how to make a kite properly.

Hence, Cheang Yarin and I try to compile this books a souvenir for all kite lovers and would like to consider it a tool to excite a love of an element of the national heritage among our countrymen.

In this thin booklet, you would receive some information about an introduction to Cambodia's brief geographic setting and kite season in Cambodia, kinds of Khmer kites, history of Khmer Kites, history of the Royal Festival of Kite Flying, beliefs in kite flying, legends of Khmer kites, gathering for kite flying, methods of making Khleng EK , model of Khleng Ek , kites in various provinces, etc.

Great sources of my inspiration to compile this book are reference books and encouragement from my colleagues and friends, namely Etude sur les rites agraires des cambodgiens by Eveline Porée-Maspero (1964), series of Kambuj Sorya Digest, Khmer Ceremonies of the 12 months of the year published by Buddhism Institute of Cambodia (1974), and first-hand information provided by kite lovers in various provinces, especially, the provinces of Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kandal, Prey Veng, Siem Reap, and Kep ville.

Sim Sarak


It is our great pleasure to acknowledge those who have provided help and encouragement to the organization of Festivals of Kite-Flying in Cambodia and during the conception and gestation of this book.

Special thanks and profound gratitude are due to Her Royal Highness Samdech Preah Ream Norodom Buppha Devi, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, for her gracious support to all activities in favor of to kite renaissance and this study, to His Royal Highness Sisovath Panara Sirivuth, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, for his gracious input of advice to organizing various kite-flying occupations and to the compilation of this book, to His Excellency Nuth Narang, former Minister of Culture and Fire Arts, for his advocacy of the organization of the first two Festivals of kite flying in 1994 and 1996 respectively.

We have been especially fortunate to have an opportunity to work with several good colleagues and friends without whom this book could not have been brought to its successful conclusion. Virtually all information were obtained on the spots by either us or our colleagues and friends and many sections are based on interviews with directors of Culture and Fine Arts Services of all provinces who took us to visit numerous elderly resource persons and kite lovers in rural and remote areas. To them we express our profound thanks and appreciation.

But we would especially like to express our sincere thanks to H.E. Prak Thuch, a member of Parliament and former Director of Takeo Provincial Culture and Fine Arts Services, Mr. Suon Lon, an active State employee and a kite lover in Siem Reap province, and many kite flyers in various provinces, including Mr. Nop Nem (Kompong Thom), Messieurs Leng Srun and Mao Nom (Takeo), Messieurs Svay Chhon and Pol Sem (Kompong Speu), Messieurs Eng Setha and Khim Sorn (Kandal), Messieurs Mang Yong and Phen Lim (Prey Veng), Mr. Pol Neng (Kepville) and Mr. Krong Nguon Ly (Phnom Penh) for their continuing cooperation.

Without helpful comments and willingness and excellent cooperation of these prominent people, the book could not have been come true.

We concede that this book is not comprehensive and would be grateful for any additions, corrections and criticism so readers will have a better reference book about kites in Cambodia in the future.

Send all letters to simsarak[at]

Sim Sarak and Cheang Yarin

Phnom Penh, June 2002


khmer kite procession with chhai-yam music troupe.

opening of a festival, brahman priests and kitefliers pay homage to the god-of-wind.



Preface vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Geographical Setting and Kite Season in Cambodia 1

Various Kinds of Khmer Kites 4

History of Khmer Kites 16

Khleng Pnorng or Khleng Ek 19

History of The Royal Kite Flying Ceremony 21

Khmer Belief in Kite-Flying 24

Legends of Khmer Kites 27

Gathering for Entertaining Kites 30

Method of Making Khleng Ek 33

Model of Khleng Ek 35

Tools for Making Kites 36

Khleng Ek in Various Provinces 37

Forum 46

Annexes 53

Annex 1: References 54

Annex 2: Glossary 55


Sim Sarak

1.1 Geographical Setting

Situated in Southeast Asia, Cambodia shares the north with Thailand and Laos, the east with Vietnam, and the west with Thailand. It has 440 kilometers of coastal border, facing the Gulf of Siam. The Mekong River, the longest river in the region, begins in China's Tibet and flows generally south through southwest China, next circuits across or along the borders of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and then covers through 500 km of Cambodia meandering via southern Vietnam before reaching the South China Sea.

In addition, Cambodia has Tonle Sap, a greatest lake in Southeast Asia. Phnom Penh sits at Chaktomuk (four faces), the confluence of the upper Mekong, the Tonle Sap rivers, the Bassac and the Lower Mekong. About the size of Missouri of the United States, Cambodia spanning a land area of 181,035 square kilometers and having a chain of mountains. This chain of mountains standing to the west and north and the eastern plateau shield the country from the effects of treacherous storms and squalls is ideal for farming, especially for growing rice, the chief crop. The population of Cambodia was 11.4 million, according to the 1998 National Census. About 85% of population lives in rural areas and their livelihood dependent upon agricultural production. Still based on the General Population Census, an absolute majority of the population are Khmer making the country the most homogeneous in Southeast Asia. The remaining 10% are hill-tribe Khmer Leu, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cham Muslims (Khmer Islam). Cambodian people speak Khmer of Mon-Khmer, which is one of the most ancient Austro-Asiatic languages.
On the globe Cambodia is situated between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator and has a tropical monsoon climate. The country is tropically hot and humid with two distinct seasons: Rainy (high tide) and Dry (low tied), which set rhythm of rural life and characterize beliefs of the Khmer .

1.2 Kite Season in Cambodia

A good beginning of the rainy season and the first part of the dry season bring joy and hope to the Khmer. They are happy with a right time to transplant and harvest rice. The rainy season lasts six months from May to October and the dry season may also last as long as six months from November to April.

During the rainy season, monsoons that blow from the southwest bring rains to cover rivers and lakes while the Mekong fills up and overflows into Tonle Sap, pushing the water up into the Great Lake and flooding the forest to become a cradle of all species of fish. The rains provide nearly all water that the farmers use and the annual monsoon flooding of the Mekong deposits nutrient-rich silt across vast tracts of land for agriculture.

In the dry season, seasonal winds change its direction from the northeast bringing no rain by dry weather while Tonle Sap reverses it course and the water flows out of the lake southward and into the Mekong. The lake and river water begin to level down, thus giving a sign that the fishing and harvest seasons are nearing. All farmers with broad smiles on their faces at every corner of the country start harvesting rice. While their entertainment season is arriving, the kite season is also taken place.

Before civil war breaking out in 1970, Cambodian people were happily flying all kinds of kites in the fields after harvest time usually in November. At night some kite flyers flew lantern kites, Khleng Pnorng or Ek in the open fields and then they came back home or they sometimes gathered at an agreed place to listen to the sound of Ek kites. For them, children like flying Kandaung Kite (without tail), Kantaung or pouch kite and Prabao or Pocket kite by day.

However, the horror of war in the 1970s caused the death of millions of Cambodian people while their national culture was eclipsed and kite flying had not been seen since then until recently.

A small number of elderly persons, who loved kites and still remembered ways to make kites, again have since 1992 produced and cautiously flown their kites in only safe area (that is free from scattering landmines).

On 31 December 1994, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts initiated the first kite festival in Phnom Penh with the participation of 27 kite flyers from nine provinces. The result of the contest were that a kite flyer from Banteay Meanchey province won the first reward, a kite flyer from Siem Reap province came second, and a kite flyer from Kompong Cham rank third. The ever first festival was unprecedented since 1859. This event was really an opportunity to restore lives of Khmer kites especially Khleng Pnorng or Ek . Since then festivals of kite flying were successively held in Phnom Penh on 25 December 1996, 22 December 1999, 11 December 2000, and 30 November 2001.

The season of kite flying traditional practice usually begins in the dry season (from November to March). As yet kite flying in Cambodia has been in action joyfully again since 1994.

2nd national kitefestival
dec 25, 1996

Various Kinds of Khmer Kites
Sim Sarak

Nowadays, the most popular kites that local people prefer flying are Khleng Pnorng, Khleng Horpao, Khleng Kandaung, Khleng Paot. Most kite flyers can be found in the following provinces: Kandal, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Kratie, Prey Veng, Kompong Speu, Takeo, Kampot, Kepville and Phnom Penh.

Khleng Pnorng or Pnorng kite is most preferable among kite flyers. Its shape and design is slightly different from one province to another. There were dozens of types of kites that people used to fly before 1970 but now the locals play only some of them. They are:
01. Khleng Pnorng or Khleng Ek (Ek musical kite)
02. Khleng Kantaung (Pouch kite)
03. Khleng Kandaung (kite without tail)
04. Khleng Kloah (Parasol kite)
05. Khleng Kaun Moan (Chicken kite)
06. Khleng Bao or Prabao or Horpoa (Pocket kite)
07. Khleng Pra-mang (Hawk kite)
08. Khleng Sak or Chak (Tatoo kite)
09. Khleng Kaum (Lantern kite)
10. Khleng Me-ambao (Butterfly kite)
11. Khleng Kang-keb (Frog kite)
12. Khleng Slab-bei (Three-wing kite)
13. Khleng Sva-prachak or Sva-prasak (Fighting Monkey kite)
14. Khleng Yak (Giant or Ogre kite)
15. Khleng Kdam (Crab kite)
16. Khleng Preah-kher (Moon kite)
17. Khleng Bandoeur Kaun (Child escort kite)
18. Khleng Paot (Bucket kite)
19. Khleng Pkay (Star kite)
20. Khleng Pkar (Flower kite)
21. Khleng Puos (Snake kite)
22. Khleng Neak (Naga kite)
23. Khleng Pra-chiev (Bat kite)
24. Khleng Klauk or Ka-am (Gourd or Jar kite)
25. Khleng Krapeu (Crocodile kite)
26. Khleng Trei (Fish kite)
27. Khleng Prasat Angkor Wat (Angkor Wat Temple kite)
And many other kites under study.



3rd nat'l kitefestival for peace.

dec 22, 1999.


History of Khmer Kites
Sim Sarak

The locals call a flying kite as "khleng". In Khmer language, khleng means a rapacious bird, preying on and eating flesh of snakes, fish, chicken, rats etc.....

In the ancient time, the Khmers invented a flying object and named it as khleng similar to the name of "Le milan rouge" (haliaetus echynatus), a carnivorous bird. Though no contemporary records or proofs of the kite's name, the locals here called this object for flying as "kite" for "hawk".

In 1590, Mr. Quiroga de San Antonio2, a Portuguese, came to visit Cambodia and wrote about Khmer kites. He said that Khmer kites made from tall reed "Boboh" (aira arundinacea) plants, papers and strings and when the wind blew it flew up and sounded beautifully.

Mr. George Coedes, a French savant and archeologist of Ecole francaise d' Extrême-Orient referred to Khmer-language stone inscription incised in A.D. 972, as saying that replica of kite was among other sacred objects. According to this inscription, the locals considered kite one of most important things to worship and surely invented before A.D. 972 except that it was not clear whether the kite came into existence by the beginning of Angkor epoch (ninth century A.D.), or Zhenla period (late sixth century to eighth century A.D.) or the Funan era ( first century - sixth century A.D.) or the middle of the last millennium BC.
Even though there is no clarification about which era kite was brought into existence, the locals, Khmer kite flyers inclusive, believe that Khmer kites were invented before the first few centuries of the Christian era.This assertion also parallels a conclusion made in Eveline Porée-Maspero's "Etudes sur les rites agraires des cambodgiens" of 1964 edition as saying that "the ceremonies of kite flying as an heritage of culture have existed in the Khmer civilization for along time ago before the Khmer adapted Indian civilization" (Tout ce qui vient d'etre dit prouve que, chez les Khmers, les ceremonies du lancer de cerfs-volants appartiennent à un fonds de civilization antérieur a leur hindouisation). Based on Eveline's conclusion, we can further confirm that the Khmer saw a continuous development of its own civilization before elements of Indian culture were absorbed or chosen by the Cambodian people during the first years of the Christian era.

Archaeological evidences found from the site of Laang Spean in northwestern Cambodia and from another site of Samrong Sen in Kampong Chhnang province suggested that pre-historic Khmers presumably inhabited in these respective areas as early as 5000 BC . These are supplemented by archeological findings, especially from the remains at Angkor Borei, an ancient of the former capital of Funan (early first century AD), located in actually southern province of Takeo, excavated in 1999 by an archeological team jointly supervised by the Cambodian University of Fine Arts and Hawaii University of the United States.

Remains found at the site included fired-clay jars, bowls, pots, jewelry, other objects and bones of ancient men. These artifacts and evidence were sent to Hawaii for examination and initial conclusions were that the Khmers had their own culture and already had an organized society about 400BC. Thanks to findings at Laang Spean, Samrong Sen and Angkor Borei pre-historic sites and research made by Eveline, one could generally assume that the practice of flying kites were brought into existence around 400BC. Evéline further wrote that Thmén Cei (Thmenh Chey) was the person who introduced kite to ancient China. Therefore kite flying was flying not only in Cambodia alone but also made known to a foreign country as an extension of kite to ancient China. This can be confirmed by records of Khmer history and a work of literature entitled "Thmén Cei" or "Thmenh Chey".

Madeleine Giteau in a work titled "History of Cambodia" wrote that Chinese travelers gave the first Indianized Kingdom of the western coast of the Gulf of Siam a name as Funan, which developed between the first and sixth centuries A.D. Henri Parmentier also wrote in his "Angkor Guide Henri Parmentier" that the first region to be "Indianized " was Fou-nan (ignoring the local name) whose empire, from the 2nd century of our era, stretched over nearly the whole Indochina. Mr. Paul Pelliot's text published in the bulletin de l'Ecole Française d' Extrême Orient (BEFEO) in 1903 was one of his prominent work under the title "The Fou-nan" based on Chinese records. In his text dealing with the lower Fou-nan, Mr. Pelliot pointed out that Funan was the first Khmer Kingdom established during the first years of Christian era. Twenty years later, Mr. Pelliot added more substantial information to certain Chinese texts concerning Hindunized Indochina (Etude Asiatiques II, pp. 243-263). Also in his lecture notes on "History of Cambodia" presented to the Faculty of Archaeology under the Royal University of Fine Arts in January 1991 in Phnom Penh, Dr. Michael Vickery asserted that Funan was the early beginning of History of Cambodia recorded in the first century A.D. According to Chinese records, Cambodia and China built commercial relations for long ago as dated back to around the third century AD. Thanks to those records, we come to learn that Funan was generally considered the first period in Cambodia History, beginning perhaps in the first century AD. The name Funan is found only in Chinese records of contact with Funan, which began early in the third century. The location of Funan seems certain from the Chinese records. Chinese officials said Funan was 3000 li (1200km) west of Lin-y (north central Vietnam). Funan was also on a large bay of the sea and it was 3000 li in width, that is, from East to West.

In the book titled "The Khmers" of I.W. Mabbett and David. P. Chandler also referred to initial links, which were establishing between Nokor Phnom or Funan and China around 225 AD. By that time China had sent Messieurs Kang Tai and Zhu Ying as envoys to the Court of Funan. Funan and China continued maintaining their relations and exchanged royal delegations, including the sending of a musician troupe to perform in Wu Kingdom, southern China, in 243. Still according to same sources, Funan and China began to establish links in the first centuries of our contemporary era.
Some Khmer literature texts used as curriculum of secondary schools also mentioned relations between Cambodia and China and one of them titled "Thmenh Chey" also referred to the kite flying in China by a Khmer scholar. Through this literature text, Cambodian people can define that it was a history of kite extension to China. A book published in 1972 by Buddhism Institute of Cambodia mentioned that when Thmenh Chey was detained in a bronze jail in China, he made an Ek or Pnorng kite to fly every night. The sound of his Pnorng kite was reaching the Chinese king. Tù! Tù! were the sound of his kite and sounded like a bird's singing, which the king had never heard before. In consultation with his astrologists, the king released Thmenh Chey from the prison to go back home after realizing that Thmenh Chey was a Khmer scholar and for having a fear that Pnorng Kite might eat his people.

According to Eveline Porée-Maspero's :"Etude sur les rites agraires des cambodgiens", Thmenh Chey was detained because he mocked at the Chinese King as saying that "the Chinese king's face looks like thunder". The Chinese king felt scared of Thmenh Chey's kite and gave an order to release him from the prison. When the kite was flying above the king's palace and sounded in the dark moon, the Chinese king heard tù tù, which were almost similar to "elimination or killing" in Chinese terms.

The book entitled "The Khmers" based on "The Fou-nan" of Mr. Paul Pelliot also wrote that Funan sent a tribute of trained elephants to China under the Chin Dynasty but the then Chinese emperor was afraid of those elephants, considering these animals from distant lands a source of danger to his people and then ordered them be returned.

One can assume that the then Chinese emperor scared of elephants because he did not recognize these animals and the another hypothesis was that the Chinese king felt frightened by Thmenh Chey's Pnorng kite because the latter had never known a kite which can air sound by its horns. Thanks to the existing relationship between Funan and China and the exchange of delegations between the two countries, including the sending of elephants to China and the comeback home of a Khmer kite flyer, one can conclude that Thmenh Chey was perhaps a Khmer savant of Funan period and that the Khmer kite was introduced to China around the third century AD.

khmer kitemaker

mr. leng-srun



Khleng Pnorng or Khleng Ek
Sim Sarak

Khleng Pnorng and Khleng Ek are one and the same. Here in Cambodia the locals call any kite with Ek or music instrument attached to its head as Khleng Pnorng or Khleng Ek. Pnorngs are minority ethnic hill-tribe people actually living in mountainous areas in the northeastern provinces of Kratie, Rattanakiri and especially Mondulkiri.

In this country, locals consider Pnorng tribes ancient Khmers before Funan epoch or before the Christian era. The ancient Khmers worshipped Neakta (ancestor spirits) associated with stone before they were influenced by the Indian civilization, whereby elements of Indian culture were chosen by the Cambodian people in a process that lasted more than a thousand years.

A number of resource persons3 agree that it was called Khleng Pnorng because such a kite was initiate by Pnorng, ancient Khmer tribe before Funan era. while referring to a part of Khmer literature entitled Thmenh Chey, in which Thmenh Chey notified the Chinese king that it was "Khleng Pnorng"

Ek is a Khmer musical instrument used for putting on the head of Khleng Ek and waving to produce eerie sounds. Ek has a bamboo handle in form of a racing canoe with highly curved ends, a bow or a hammock. It is attached with reed which is made from rattan, bamboo strips, or palm leaves. Both sides of the reed are stick with bee waxes so as to help Ek produce beautiful sounds when the wind is blowing.

Concerning the word "Khleng Ek", an aged person named Mel and Mr. Chin of Cheung Khal village, Chup commune, Tbaung Khmum district, Kompong Cham province, who were kite flyers in the 1950s and 1960s, said that the Khmers had many kinds of kite but the only Khleng Pnorng or Pnorng kite that could produce sounds. They further explained that Pnorng kite looked smart as it was armed with the musical instrument "Ek". Because of its special characteristics, it was named "Khleng Ek". In Khmer language, "Ek" means "unique" or "number 1".

According to these two elderly persons, local inhabitants of Tbaung Khmum district preferred calling "Khleng Ek", "Khleng Por Kaun" (the kite carrying its baby", or "Khleng Mer-Kaun" (Mother-baby kite) rather than "Khleng Pnorng". The people in this locality call the kite as "Khleng Mer-Kaun" or Mother-Baby kite because they compare it to a family considering its wings mother and its lower part its baby. While Ek kite airs its beautiful sound, people used to compare its eerie sounds to a song sang by a mother to lull her baby to sleep in hammock. They make such a comparison because the lower part beneath the kite waist looks like a woman's uterus.
Some other people compare the kite to a country and considered kite wings a queen, Ek on the top her powerful voice to give her royal order to her population beneath the kite waist.


History of The Royal Kite Flying Ceremony
Sim Sarak
As a routine, ancient Khmer kings celebrated the royal festival of kite flying annually without fail.

A Khmer stone inscription dated 894 çaka ( 894 Mohasakaraj or Great Era) or 972 AD referred to a royal festival of kite-flying and required offerings by listing a number of liturgical objects, like flasks and dishes, music instruments, flyswatter and spear, five kites. According to Mr. Coedès, one hardly found among those worship materials and many of which were made from valuable materials, bronze, silver or elephant tusks. Unfortunately, there was no explanation related to the above-mentioned kites.

In connection with schedules and procedures of the royal kite flying, a book on annual festivals published by Buddhism Institute of Cambodia in 1972 described that the festival is usually held between the 12th day through the 15th day of waxing moon of Maksir, the first month of the Khmer lunar calendar which normally fall in November or December, and always accompanied by a ritual ceremony.

From the beginning of this festival, Buddhist monks were requested to recite protective prayer at all the five ceremonial halls decorated with one kite and many lanterns for each. During his reign, King Srei Suriyopor (early 17th century) at this Oudong Meanchey Royal Palace celebrated this festival every year. Also during King Ang Doung's reign (ruled 1845 to 1859), the royal festival of kite flying was annually held without fail following a Buddhist ritual ceremony. After his death in 1859, this festival was given up but still popular up to 1970 among farmers, especially at the beginning of each harvest season.

- Erection of Large and Small Ceremonial Halls and Lighting of Lanterns

On the festival site, five ceremonial halls are erected.
o Four small halls are built at a distant from the central platform and each hall looks to one of the four major directions: east, north, south and west.
o In the center of the festive area is a large platform of honor where the king, mandarins and nobles would sit during the festival to listen Buddhist monks' sermons and then to watch series of art performance.

As the first night comes on, the whole area is lit up with floodlights of lanterns enlightened by Bakus (Brahman priests of the royal palace). Bakus come to put off lights by dawn of the next day. Again at night of the second day, mandarins and guests of honor begin to light candles and joss sticks to pray for peace and happiness for all when the king or his delegate is arriving to illuminate those lanterns again.


Musical offering :
The traditional Pin-peat music bands play series of music pieces during the festival like Krarai, Cheut (characterized by continuous drum beats), an offer to Preah Peay (the God of the Wind), another music of favor to Preah Pisnuka (angelic architect), Om touk (boat rowing) etc. Then seven monks, one from each of concerned pagodas, are invited to recite prayer for victory and prosperity for everyone being present in the festival and their whole countrymen as well.

Offering of dancing performance:
After prayers, art troupes begin to sing and perform certain kind of dance including a dance in favor of angelic architects, wishing well by scattering flowers, Tep Monorom (delightful dance of deities) and Robam Neang Mekhala (Lady Mekhala dancing) to dedicate to Hindu gods and goddesses, namely Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Indra, the Moon, the Sun, God of Wind etc.

As the main hall is the special place, main offerings are such as:
o One pair of Bay-sei4 with 3 layers
o One pair of Bay-sei with 5 layers
o One pair of Bay-sei with 7 layers
o One pair of Bay-sei with 9 layers
o One victorious sword, one pair of golden knives, one pair of silver knives, and one pair of diamond spears and five kites.
Besides, foods and worship materials must be also prepare. They are:
o Food, dessert, Num Ansam (cylindrical cake), Num Korm (pyramid cake), Num Bot (steamed cake of sago flour).
o Alcohol
o Candles, incense sticks and flowers

Other offerings to be placed in four small halls
Offerings to be prepared and displayed wiyhin each of the four small halls are two trays of assorted fruits, two trays of food, one bottle of wine, one glass of water, flowers, candles and joss sticks.

Following the art performance, Bakus or Brahman priests lead the procession of kite flyers with their respective kites in hand to pay homage to the God of Wind inside the main hall and the four small halls. Taking lead by Chhai-yam (rhythmic drum beating) music troupe, kite flyers then made a parade of their kites around the field before the announcement of the opening of kite-flying ceremony by Brahman priests.


khmer kitemaker

mr. nop-nem



Khmer Belief in Kite-Flying
Cheang Yarin

Until now most Cambodian people's livelihoods are agriculturally based and their main crop is rice.

In the 1960s, Cambodia was even able to export about 500,000 tons of rice per annum. As most of them are farmers their beliefs and merit-making festivals are more or less reliant on the annual south-west monsoon and farming. Today, Cambodian people are Buddhists but they blend well between animism, Brahmanism and Buddhism as belief in Neakta predates the arrival of both Brahmanism and Buddhism to Cambodia.

Every month at least one festival is held. Cambodian people call "Pithi Tvear Tos-meas " or ceremonies of twelve months of the year and these festivals are consistently held from the past until present. These festivals are classifieds into two major groups: those organized during the rainy season and those in the dry season. This chapter briefly describes two festivals held at the beginning of the rainy season and two others in the first part of the dry season.

The two festivals performed at the beginning of the rainy season are: the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and Fete of Neakta.

Pithi Chraoat Preah Naingkorl or the Royal Ploughing Ceremony has been observed for many centuries at the initiative of a Khmer king in the ancient time.

This ceremony is held to pay tribute to the God of Earth for her gracious favor of providing land to farmers to cultivate their rice. It is actually performed in Pisak (May). The sixth month of the Khmer lunar calendar, and marks the beginning of the rainy season.

Fete of Neakta (an animistic spirit or deity) takes place probably a fortnight after the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Local ceremonies of this type are organized to invoke the spirits to manage to procure rains for farming. For the Khmers, they believe that Neakta or ancestor spirits would stay around to look after their children. Neakta are responsible for preventing younger generation from various epidemic diseases, ensuring sufficient rains for farmers and a prosperity for all in general.

Marking the end of the wet season, the Khmers have more festivals, including the Water Festival and the Festival of Kite-Flying.
The celebration on water is held on the full moon day of Kattik, the twelfth month of Khmer lunar calendar, which usually falls in October or November. It ushers in the final season of the year and also marks the reversing of the flow of Tonle Sap. Cambodia people celebrate the festival to honor their ancestors and commemorate ancient naval battles in defense of their country. The people also wish to thank the earth and water for their gifts in form of alluvial soil for farming. According to Buddhist belief, it began as a celebration of Buddha's tooth, kept by the king of the Naga, or in memory of a bridge of boats built by the Buddha to end a drought in the kingdom of Vaicali.

Then one month exactly after the celebration on water, another festival follows and brings together kite makers to demonstrate their talents at full-moon night of Maksir, the first month of Khmer lunar calendar, which usually falls in November or December. For Khmers, the festival means an occasion to pray for good weather and good harvest of crops and for a favorable situation free from destruction by floods or heavy rains.

Buddhist Belief in flying kites
The locals also believe that they perform the festival to dedicate to" Preah Chula Muni Chetdei", a stupa at the second level of paradise where the Buddha's hair and diadem were buried. At the end of the kite-flying season, the locals organize a ritual ceremony to offer meal, gift or reserved contribution to the monks and they dedicate these offerings to their ancestors and the former sage "Thmenh Chey" for his kind extension of Phnorng kite to ancient China. Now, not many people are well aware of the meaning of this prayer.

Hindu faith and cult of flying kites
As Hinduism was inspired several religious cults and also became dominant forms of worship in the past, the locals fly their kites in order to dedicate to various Hindu gods, namely shiva, Vishnu, Brahma etc. and other minor divinities, including Preah Suriya (the sun), Preah Chantr (the moon), Preah Phiruna (the Rain), Preah Mer Thorinee (the Earth), Preah Agki (the Fire).

The festival of kite-flying is also to express gratitude to Preah Peay (Divinity of wind) for giving us air to breathe, blowing clouds to create the annual precipitation of the country and for bringing no rain but dry weather to ripen crops.

When the rainy season is nearing to end, the south-western monsoon brings strong winds, high humidity and heavy rains. These torrential rains are accompanied by long and loudly echoes of thunderclap, which the locals call it as "Pkor Pdam Kdam kyang", meaning that the thunder conveying message to crabs and snails (that the wet season is nearing an end very soon). Probably, most rains, which sometimes delay by the end of the rainy season and create havoc, the locals are inclined to believe that flying kites can help prevent floods. Therefore, the locals try to get even up to seven different tones out of the musical bow of their EK kites in order to express gratitude to the divinity of wind. By doing so, they believe that the beautiful sounds of their kites can convene the northeast wind for blowing huge clouds away and not creating any precipitation. For their part, a segment of local inhabitants of Pursat district, Pursat province, tend to throw a dog into the water as offering to Ganga (divinity of water), hoping that this action can help preventing flood while they harvest rice.

Other meanings
In Khmer folklore, kite always has been many symbols. A good number of locals hold the festival of kite-flying annually and wish for peace, freedom and happiness for everyone. Some others prefer flying kites to welcome new year's goddess who should assume her responsibility for prosperity of the country toward the end of each dry season.

It was formerly believed that if a Khleng Pnorng or Khleng EK drops down to any roof-top, the house owner or his dependents would hazardously suffer a misfortune. Therefore, the kite flyer should prepare a ceremony to invoke success or prosperity in favor of this family members instead of leaving the house owner be unhappy and resorting a legal claim against each other. They did so because some of people compared Khleng Ek to khleng srak (a type of owl, possibly strix flammea) whose cry in a village or nearly a house is said to invoke a disease or to presage to death of a sick person.

Out of habit, people always chase khleng Srak or khleng khmoch (ghost owl) away by insulting and cursing it. And people can also throw a piece of burning firewood or fish cheese at this nocturnal bird. Now at countryside, this kind of belief is no longer so popular as in the past.

khmer kitemaker

mr. pol-neng

southern coast


Legends of Khmer Kites
Cheang Yarin
Many legends of kite are still told by local people this day and sometimes some of these legends somehow exert influences on Cambodian people's beliefs and behavior. Four of them are briefly cited below.

One legend of Khleng Pnorng, which is the only truly musical kite in the world, becomes part of curriculum in secondary school - that is "Thmen Cei or Thmenh Chey". This legend handed down from the past and was considered a case of an extension of Khmer kite to ancient China.

The legend has it that, many centuries ago, a Khmer savant named "Thmen Cei" was banished from his homeland for a reason by a Khmer king. While he was in China he earned his living by selling "Num Banh-Chok " (Khmer noodle). As many as Chinese locals were overwhelmed by the aroma of "Num Banh-Chok spicy soup", which served with Khmer vermicelli, usually arranged in a coil. When smelling the aroma, customers had to taste it immediately and they could hardly contain their appreciation of its taste.

This news reached the Chinese sovereign. By that time, the Chinese people did not know the Khmer noodle and that was why the Chinese king questioned what was such a dish and Thmenh Chey replied that it was "Num Banh-Chok" and if anyone wished to taste it he was pleased to serve. Thmenh Chey further explained that the customer should raise both hands and open big mouth while he fed "Num Banh-chok" by his hand.

Because he would like to taste unprecedented food, the King agreed such a strange service. Thmenh Chey requested so because he wanted to see the King's face. Whenever he saw the Chinese king's face, Thmenh Chey had another idea to deliberately make the king angry and expel him back to his homeland. Therefore, Thmenh Chey grumbled: "The Chinese king has a face like thunder while the Khmer king has a smiling face like a full moon."

By learning that the noodle seller dare looking down on him, the Chinese sovereign was so angry and commended a frozen imprisonment of this provoker. Being locked in a frozen gaol, Thmenh Chey kept teasimg a Chinese mate in the prison to make him nervous, leading to a wrestle or a fight each other by their fist so as to fight to the death from big freeze. Thmenh Chey also used his time to make different earthen statues shaped with his urine. Thanks to a collusion with a Chinese boy, his products were sold and then bamboo strips and red paper bought for "Chey". He made a Khleng and flew it from the window of his cell. His kite danced above the royal palace where sad modulation of Khlenh Pnorng were ringing out all night long.

The Chinese king very anxious at hearing tù-tù on top of his royal palace. He questioned his senior counselors and astrologists about signification of those sounds. They answered that it was a song of a birth of ill omen, which echoed every night as long as a Khmer savant remained in the prison. The Chinese astrologists further informed to their sovereign that a savant was abandoned in this country and the local inhabitants would get rid of bad luck only when that man was set free from jail.

The King agreed and ordered Thmenh Chey released. After getting out of his cell, Thmenh Chey unfolded the secret to the Chinese king as saying that "Your Majesty, I am going to return the bird that may eat your people to my homeland. The strange bird is Khleng Pnorng". When asked by the king what the bird looked like, Thmenh Chey promised to make a replica of that bird and then brought his kite to show the sovereign. He explained the king that all others birds sang with their beck except that this one cried by its horns. The Chinese king replied: "It is very strange. Why don't we fly it to listen its musical cry?" To honor his word, the sovereign was pleased to send Thmenh Chey back to Cambodia and presented him 100 male and female escorts aboard junks piled up with a plenty of riches. It was ever since that there are Chinese in Cambodia and kites in China.

Some other people recount that a very long time ago there was a king who ordered his men to use "Tung Proleung" (a piece of fabric of distinctive design symbolizing the soul of a newly dead person) as the body of his kite.

He flew this kite to make his population perceived that it was the soul of Lord of this kingdom and that the melancholic tune aired by his kite was his sorrowful cry after the death of his brother (the former king). The locals then called the kite as "Khleng Proleung "or "Kite of soul of His Majesty King". Later on, the word "Khleng Proleung " turned into "Khleng Ponleung " and then "Khleng Pnorng " as heard these days.

And this is the third realm of folklore. Once upon a time, there was a young man making his Kheng Pnorng to fly at night for his pleasure. With very long cord, he flew his kite higher and higher into the sky. By mid-night, the wind blew stronger and broke his Say Ek. The young man with "Bantuoh" knife hanging at his left waist made his mind to climb up along the kite cord to replace a new Say Ek. His kite swung left and right and also down and up with the strong wind like that a pretty girl who danced professionally. Hazardously, his kite cord was cut by his " Bantuoh" knife.

The young man had no choice but leaving the strong wind to decide his fate. Luckily enough, the kite dropped in a country where a beautiful princess had fallen in love with this young man because of more than one criteria, firstly the young man looked smart enough and secondly he knew how to make a strange and huge musical kite. At last they got married and the local inhabitants knew how to make "Khleng Pnorng " since then.

Still there is one more legend that a good number of people may tell to their grandchildren. Once upon a time, there was a prince named "Suvann Hangs", who wished to search out a would-be wife. In Khmer language, "Hangs" means a mythological goose, which is the vehicle of Brahma, and Suvann is gold.

The story went on that this young prince made a kite and flew it to pray for his dreamy lover. He wished: "If my kite drops on any rooftop where, of course, a honestly unmarried daughter lives under, I shall ask her parents to give their daughter's hand in marriage".

He was leaving that night by means of a mechanic goose to follow his kite and reached another land on the next two days. It was there he met a beautiful girl named: "Ketu Soriyung". Again in Khmer language, "Suriyung" means body of the sun and Ketu stands for the light.

And the happy end of this story was that the golden goose and the sunlight had a diamond wedding ceremony and a fantastic party usually followed it.


Gathering for Entertaining Kites
Cheang Yarin
A Time For Flying Kites
Many local people like flying kites during the day and also in the night of the dry season. Kites are traditionally flown, by most farmers but least crops gardeners along riverside, to mark the end of wet season and the beginning of harvest season.

In these days, a passion to entertain kites is not as much vivid as before 1970. The kite was in a prevailing style in olden time when people got together into small groups to entertain a passion for kites. Kites to be flown during the night are lantern kite, moon kites and Ek kites while the rest can be entertained in the daytime. An Ek kite swinging up and down in the day is the one flown by its owner one night or even a few nights and days earlier thanks to favorable winds..

Field for flying kites
Fields of stubble left after the harvest and open space along riverside are suitable place for flying kites. There people can fly their kites higher into the sky because of favorable winds, thus enabling Ek wings to dance well and Ek reed to produce beautiful eerie sounds.

Number of flyers
Huge as Khleng Ek sometimes with more than four meter wide, there is a need of up to five persons to be able to fly this kite. For the smaller one, it still requires three people at least .

In order to launch a large kite two persons should carry the cord and run quickly, one person holds and then release the kite body when it is recommended and two others should ensure that each of both kite tails not to tie up to short ends of rice stalks left in the ground after harvesting. It should be noted that the kite can hit the ground and is damaged if one of its tails is tied up to stubble.

They should be also cautions even if one launches the smaller kite. Therefore, one person is to hold the string firmly and run forward, a second person throws the kite body and a third person is to look after good order of kite tails.

Traditionally, the Khmers will never fly a kite before the Water Festival (in November). It is a tough time for farmers during the rainy season (which last from May through October) as they are quite busy with land preparation, rice transplantation and care of rice field.

Only after the work, either farming or crop plantation, is completely done, people could find their annually happy time, that is rice harvest combined with entertainment. And such entertainment they could enjoy is a passion for kites of various kinds at the time they begin harvesting.

It is the right moment for them to fly their kite as the rains stop and the northeastern winds begin to blow bringing along a dry weather to ripen crops. The rice field is gradually empty but left only with short stalks of rice after being harvested. Such open field with favorable wind is good for farmers to fly their kites. Because they never fly their kites during the rainy season, a Khmer proverb says: "Vossa deur preuk, Kattik deur l'ngeach". Most frequently, "Vossa" or the rainy season sees torrential rains and very strong winds in the afternoon or late afternoon. Therefore "Vossa deur preuk" literally means that it is good for travelers to get out in the morning during the rainy season. And "Vossa deur preuk" also means, figuratively, that farmers should get up early in the morning throughout "Vossa" and rush out to the field either to turn up the soil, transplant rice or embankment of rice-field border.

"Kattik" or "Kadek" is the 12th month of the Khmer lunar calendar, which usually falls in November or December. It is already entering into a portion of the dry season and farmers normally experience with strong winds or sometimes very strong winds in most of mornings. Therefore, "Kattik duer l'ngeach" literally means that it is sound and safe to travel by water as the wind does not blow too strong in the afternoon. In figurative sense, "deur l'ngeach" means that farmers can enjoy themselves with local entertainments in the afternoons or evenings and they should not travel far away from home in the morning because they must finish harvesting as scheduled. Only after they complete their work in the morning they then can get together to fly their kites, play other population games or enjoy themselves with folklore dances and songs. In short, this proverb is to inculcate in people a good habit of mastering themselves, especially a concentration on farming in the rainy season and a wise use of time to complete harvest as planned and to find a happy time during the dry season. It is true to say that a country can be judged by the quality of its proverbs.

People, young and old, and monks as well get together to fly their kites in the dry season. In this country, monks play an important role in the conservation of national culture, including the traditional practice of flying kites. Mr. Ork Saphon, Director of Kampong Speu Provincial Culture and Arts Service retold that in the 1950s and 1960s kite was once quite popular and important symbol of the end of the rainy season. He said that monks of Amper Phnom Pagoda and Venerable Chief Monk of the province of Kampong Speu, who stayed in Mrum Pagoda, used to fly their Ek kites at night.

Mr. Saphon further recalled that by early 1950s when Cambodia was still under French colonialism this kind of kite was shot by French soldiers as they misunderstood it was a strange bird. Later on, those French soldiers realized that it was the Khmer musical kite. Generally, there is a passion for four groups of Khmer kites.

- Children like flying normal kite in the daytime, like Khleng Kantaung, Kandaung, Kaun Moan, Mer-ambao, Kloah etc.
- Adult people prefer flying fighting kites during the day such as Horpao fighting against Sak kites and Yak against Sva-prachak kites. If anyone wants his kite to fight its opponent, he should jerk his kite string so that his kite directs toward and then hits its opponent. When any wing of anyone's kite is torn or any kite falls, it is considered a loser. A kite flyer can resort to another way to win over his mate when his kite string can cut the string of opponent kite and then the opponent kite falls down to the ground. One kite string can cut its opponent kite's because each string is coated with a mixture of special home-made glue and broken pieces of glass or a bottle.
- Lantern and Kaum (lantern) kite are flown during the night so as to see light flying like glittering stars in the sky. Any village that finishes harvesting first it then is to fly lanterns and lantern kites. Therefore, kite-flying also reflects not only a solidarity among farmers in a village but also shows a pride of being able to be happy with the completion of rice harvesting before other villages.
- Khleng Pnorng or Ek are flown by night in order to be judged which kite can produce best tones out of its musical bow. Every member of each community, young and old, monks inclusive, is happy and has a passion for listening and giving scores to the best kite. A kite of any group of people is judged to be the best unless it can get at least from five to seven different tones, which are similar to one of any Khmer poems, a succession of either five, or six, or seven rhythmic words. Any kite that can produce only two different tones is considered a prophet or evil. Elderly people in Kampong Svay and Baray districts of Kampong Thom province recalled that some kite lovers had tried their best in 1940s and 1950s in making their Ek kites with two Ek (musical instrument), one at the head and another at the waist of each kite. By having two Ek, each kite was able to produce up to nine or 10 different rhythmic tones. In the following decades (1950s and 1960s), kite lovers in Kep, Kampot and Kampong Som (actually Sihanoukville) like flying a pair of Ek kites and considered one male and one female in order to let them talk back and forth to each other. People said that the pair of kites represented a love or the solidarity among community members.

These days, kite makers can get only five different tones instead of seven different tones out of the musical bow as in the past. And none of them resort to using two Ek for their kites.


Method of Making Khleng Ek
Sim Sarak
In the past, some people like flying kites with 3 to 4 meter wings and some others like the ones with between 1.4m and 2.5m wings. These days people merely like flying smaller size of kites with 1.4m to 2m wings.

How to make Ek

Materials for making Ek :
§ Straight hard bamboo trees are used for making kite handles.
§ Straight rattans or bamboo strips or palm leaves are used to make Ek wings or reeds.
§ Silk threads, nylon threads, or strings made of pineapple leaves are used make Say Ek or Ek strings.
§ Bee waxes are used to stick both sides of Ek need, which are called "Baul".

Ways to make Ek :
§ Chop bamboo into small flat strips and polish them to make Ek handles.
§ Flatten other pieces of rattan or bamboo strips and then polish them to make Ek reed and set lumps with a small hole on each end of the reed. The hole on each lump is called "Pnek Ruy" (fly eyes).
§ Use silk threads or nylon threads to tie Say Ek, through each Pnek Ruy (fly eye) of the both "Baul" (ends) of Ek wings, to the both ends of the Ek handle.
§ Apply bee wax on both lumps of the Ek wing.
§ Tie Say Ek tightly enough to the both ends of the Ek handle and then try to wave the Ek to test its sound. If it does not produce beautiful sound as one likes, add or remove some wax and then wave again. Do so again and again until the Ek kite produces an attractive sound.

Tools for making kites
§ Straight hard bamboo for making kite skeletons
§ Deum Ping-pung (a kind of bamboo tree with small inner cavity) or normal straight bamboo trees are used to make kite sternums.
§ Silk cloth, or Japanese paper, or other kinds of paper with best quality are used to cover kite body.

§ Pneuo (malabar orange) glue, or chemical glue, or glue made of boiled sticky rice flour of Khmer noodle made from fermented rice flour is used for sticking paper.
§ Kapok wood is used to make Duck tail sticks.
§ Palm tree leaves or Traing (bandanas laevis) leaves or Pchul (woven thatch) sheets are used to make kite tails.

Approaches of making kites
§ Divide bamboo into small strips and polish them to make ribs of kites (it is good to use straight hard bamboo tree with small cavity).
§ Slice other pieces of bamboo, then grill and simultaneously bend them at one's will of shaping wing frames and supporting frames.
§ Tie the kite sternums in the middle of the wing frames and other supporting frames.
§ Tie rope to the kite waist. Attach the rope to kite wings and other supporting frames.
§ Tie rope to make Duck tail by attaching sub-kite with the Duck tails stick.
§ Use papers or silk cloth to cover the kite body, tie Ek to the kite head and then attach a pair of tails with the Ducktails.

According to ancient practice, kite makers used to soak bamboo tree in water at least for one month so as not to be eaten or decayed by wood-louses. By doing so, they believe they should have improved quality of bamboo for making good kites. Some kite flyers also perceive that to prevent kite skeleton and frames from attacking by wood-louses is to cut bamboo trees during the period of waning moon.

Model of Khleng Ek
Tools for Making Kites
Khleng Ek in Various Provinces
Dek Sarin

... be continued... nov 12, 2002



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A kite tour through cambodia 2001

about khleng ek kite and music /uli wahl


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